Saturday 18 February 2023

Squires: America is in danger of open race conflict if we don't start thinking biblically about justice

 America has a bad case of multiple personality disorder. It’s a combustible mix that causes both liberals and conservatives to adhere to certain principles one day and then abandon them the next. This is especially true for issues involving race and crime. When a mass shooting takes place, the left is quick to give the race of the shooter if he is white. Perpetrators of any other color aren’t typically identified by race (e.g., “Hispanic man”).

Every CNN story involving a police shooting is framed as an example of a “white cop” doing harm to a “black victim.” That happens so often that political analysts tried to twist the fatal beating Tyre Nichols received at the hands of five black officers in Memphis into a story about racism.

Activist media outlets turned the death of George Floyd in 2020 into a referendum on race and policing in America. Then one year later, Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison told "60 Minutes" that he didn’t charge Derek Chauvin with a hate crime because he had no evidence that race factored into his actions.

In each of these incidents, the typical conservative response is to say that the actions of a few “bad apples” don’t represent the entire orchard. The right prefers to deal with incidents on an individual basis, minimize the role of race, and refuse to draw larger conclusions about groups of people based on the actions of a single individual.

This sounds like a reasonable approach, but the prevalence of videos on social media showing black perpetrators attacking white victims is putting this practice to the test.

One incident involving a black teenage boy pummeling a younger girl on a school bus went viral a few weeks ago. It was a terrible incident that was rightly condemned by all who viewed it. Similar types of videos pop up on my Twitter feed with captions like “Notice a pattern?” or memes related to black criminal conduct.

The issue is not pointing out the behavior or its perceived frequency. I will always be on the side of victims of crime, regardless of their skin color. The danger for conservatives is how quickly incidents with these dynamics can descend into the kind of racial essentialism that attributes human behavior to the inherent nature of specific ethnic groups.

I have no problem having difficult conversations about important social issues, even if they make people feel uncomfortable at times. That said, I know that discomfort is not a one-way street. Black people – whether on the left or right – who sneer at the possibility that some white students may be uncomfortable learning about lynching in 1940 can’t hide their heads in the sand when the discussion turns to gun violence in 2020.

Likewise, white conservatives who point to homicide data and draw conclusions about black people, culture, or nature should be prepared to apply that argument consistently. That could make for awkward dialogue, considering that white males account for over 85% of child pornography convictions in this country.

Racial essentialism is an untenable foundation for addressing social issues in a nation as large and ethnically diverse as ours because there is neither vice nor virtue inherent in any group based on skin color.

The long list of offenses against our Creator in the first chapter of the book of Romans has no special exemption for ethnic groups or tribes. The Bible teaches that apart from redemption through Christ, every person stands condemned for his or her sins before a holy and righteous God.

Ultimately, we need to think about crime and justice biblically. That means being consistent in our moral outrage and condemnations of evil, regardless of the identities of the victims or perpetrators.

One way to do this is by deracializing behavior and refusing to ascribe the actions of individuals to skin color. This means rejecting racial essentialism and the notion that certain behaviors are inherent to specific groups, not denying that certain behaviors are more prevalent among specific groups. That is an exercise requiring the fine tools of cultural understanding and rhetorical discipline that the race scribes of today seem unwilling – or unable – to wield.

This doesn’t mean we have to be blind to the role race plays in specific incidents. Both the crimes of Payton Gendron – the Buffalo mass shooter – and Darrell Brooks – the man who plowed his vehicle into a Christmas parade in Wisconsin – involved accusations of racial motivation. Gendron was described by corporate media as a “white” shooter who targeted black people intentionally.

Brooks, who is black, killed six people and injured dozens more, but his crimes were attributed to his co-defendant, the red SUV he was driving. One Washington Post headline read, “Here's what we know so far on the sequence of events that led to the Waukesha tragedy caused by [an] SUV.” The fact that all of his victims were white and he had social media posts that called for violence against white people was minimized by the people who treat “Karen” incidents like national emergencies.

Both men were sentenced to life in prison and will likely die behind bars, but the invocation of race in one case and the minimization of it in another is obvious to anyone paying attention.

There is a difference between a criminal who targets someone of a different ethnicity because of their color and one who victimizes someone because they seem vulnerable. But you can’t publish a steady drumbeat of opinion pieces claiming that “angry white men' 'are the scariest people in America and not expect a backlash from people who come with videos in hand to prove otherwise.

America is in danger of descending into open racial conflict in large part because we want to be seen as individuals while judging others as members of a group. Social media is causing our multiple personality disorder with respect to race to flare up on a daily basis. Conservatives are in danger of following the left down the path of race conflict. Both sides would be wise to pull back before it is too late.

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